The "shaken not stirred" catchphrase has endured for more than half a century. And the man behind the James Bond phenomenon - Ian Fleming - drew on his rather flamboyant lifestyle and naval intelligence experience for the character. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, the spy series was an escape for him. Now actor Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger) introduces the man behind 007 to viewers in BBC Entertainment's new mini-series, Fleming.
IT is just after 10.30pm and I’m awaiting a call from Dominic Cooper. I’m rather excited to chat to him about Fleming – his most prominent TV work to date.
And he calls on time, apologising for keeping me up so late. He was shooting for another big box-office release.
As Fleming is centred on the creator of James Bond, I asked him how big a fan he is of the 007 movies and the fictional spy character.
He responds, in his rather sexy British accent: “To tell you the truth, I was like a majority of the kids growing up in England, I suppose. I was in the culture and so aware of it, him and the films. You are a fan – you just are. I am not a fanatic (though). I don’t know every single movie or have a favourite Bond. I just enjoyed the imagination of him, the gadgetry, the cars and the character.”
We have had Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig breathe life into Bond – and there are fans who will still argue about who was the best, but the one constant has been viewers revelling in the high-octane action, where danger and adventure – not to mention a bevy of beautiful women – follow the uber-suave MI6 agent.
On playing Ian Fleming in the hugely-anticipated BBC mini-series, Cooper explains: “Before you could really understand what represented him as a man – he was quite an exciting person to look up to – he lived a life. I was excited, but I was also fearful (when I was offered the role). I looked into the type of man he (Fleming) was. It became apparent to the producers and me that we should not make it a very descriptive, biographically accurate account of his life. We chose to make him more accessible to viewers.”
In Fleming, fans will be introduced to a rather roguish playboy who deals with many things in his personal life. We are introduced to Lara Pulver, playing his lover Ann O’Neill; Anna Chancellor as Fleming’s liaison; Annabelle Wallis as Muriel, the inspiration behind the Bond girl; Samuel West as Admiral Godfrey (and the muse for M); and there is Rupert Evans as his successful older brother Peter and Lesley Manville as his domineering mother, Evelyn.
For this role, Cooper read up on his character. He trawled through different biographies on Fleming in a quest to better understand him.
He shares: “There was a lot about his childhood. He came from a very privileged background so it is hard to find sympathy for someone who had so much opportunity. I think it was more about making him a rounded character – one you could totally believe in and, at the same time, make sure there is enough adventure and action.
“What made me jump into the project was the human aspect of him. The darker side: his attitude towards people and women. His idea of what a man should be. That is what I found compelling.
“He was the younger son of a very successful and heroic father who died early on. His older brother made a success of whatever he did. His mother was overbearing and never appreciated anything. He suffered from very complex issues. He was not a happy man.”
Of his co-stars, Cooper praises: “They were so brilliantly cast. I think you never, until you’re in the situation on set and on the day, know what the person will bring to the character in that moment, in that scene. That is what is so magical about the whole process of acting and recreating a world. And then you have actors like all the actors we had in there, stand in a space with me and create an environment and respond to you in a way that makes you fully alert and removes you from the (real) world. Then you’re in a very good space and that’s what everyone did.”
Familiar with the challenges of doing a period project, he says: “It is different. It is more magical, I suppose, going back in time and being immersed in that world.
“You have to be careful to remain true to the time the tale is set in. That’s a discipline in itself, which makes choices for you automatically like how a person stands, their posture, how they talk, the language they use.”
As far as embodying Fleming goes, Cooper says: “He had a particular accent. I didn’t want to go that far with it. Again, it is not about a detailed biography. It is an idea of him in a world of make-believe.”
With Hollywood also keeping Cooper busy, fans can see him in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
“I have done a lot of big studio pictures, which I enjoyed. I did a car racing one, Need for Speed. I grew up loving cars and racing cars. Again, it wasn’t just a game made into a film. It had a heartfelt story and was well shot.
“Then there is Dracula Untold, which is a very interesting take on the story. And now I’m working on Warcraft, also a game turned into a movie.”
Phew, talk about being a man of action. Cooper is certainly covering the full gamut of role-playing and genres. And we thought only Bond had all the fun!
• Fleming, BBC Entertainment (DStv Channel 120), Wednesday, March 5 at 9.15pm.